New Research Finds 31% of U.S. Households Without Broadband

Nearly one third (33%) of U.S. households do not have a broadband connection providing download speeds of 25 Mbps or faster, according to new research from NPD Group’s Connected Intelligence advisory service. The “vast majority” of households without broadband are in rural areas, researchers said. In the most rural areas, less than 20% of households have a broadband connection, they said.

Continue reading at Telecompetitor

 

The Pew Charitable Trust Broadband Policy Explorer

The Pew Charitable Trusts’ state broadband policy explorer lets you learn how states are expanding access to broadband through laws. Categories in the tool include: broadband programs, competition and regulation, definitions, funding and financing, and infrastructure access.

As you choose categories, a 50-state map illustrates which states have adopted such laws. The state broadband policy explorer includes state statutes related to broadband as of Jan. 1, 2019.

Download the Explorer HERE.

PEW also published:  No One Approach Fits All States in Efforts to Expand Broadband Access Activities, regulatory authority, funding vary by jurisdiction

Here is a screenshot of the California listing with some useful URLs:

Screen Shot 2019-08-02 at 1.16.49 PM

The Census Could Undercount People Who Don’t Have Internet Access

Slate.com has the details:

There has been no shortage of debate about the upcoming census. For weeks, we had a steady stream of “will they or won’t they” as the White House, the courts, and advocates grappled with the addition of a citizenship question on the 2020 census form. But lost in this back-and-forth is another problem that could lead to the undercounting of the population of the United States, which would affect how billions in federal funds are distributed. It involves broadband.

For the first time in our history, the U.S. census will prioritize collecting responses online. In practice, this means that most households will get a letter in the mail directing them to fill out a form on a website. For households that do not respond, letters with paper forms may follow, and a census taker could eventually be sent to collect the data in person. But in light of the effort to increase internet responses, there will be a reduced effort to call on homes, knock on doors, and get responses in the mail. In fact, the Census Bureau has planned to hire 125,000 fewer staff members than during the last go-around 10 years ago, because it is counting on this online effort, in conjunction with local resources, to secure participation.
At first glance, this makes sense. In the digital age, wearing out shoe leather to survey the population seems more than a little antiquated. Plus, a technology-first approach will save scarce resources and better reflects how so many of us live our constantly connected lives. But it also creates a problem for communities without reliable access to broadband.

As a member of the Federal Communications Commission, I know too many Americans lack broadband at home. According to the agency’s official statistics, about 21 million Americans live in areas without high-speed service, the bulk of them in rural areas. However, the situation is worse than official numbers suggest. The method we use to count which households have internet access and which do not has a serious flaw. It assumes that if a single customer can get broadband in a census block, then service must be available throughout the entire block. As a result, official data significantly overstates the presence of broadband nationwide. In fact, a study found that as many as 162 million people across the United States do not use the internet at broadband speeds. The gap between 21 million and 162 million raises big questions about broadband coverage. It turns the digital divide into a chasm.

Continue reading HERE. [Emphasis added]

Nevada County Supervisors Approves Last-mile Broadband Grant

YubaNet has some details:

At Tuesday’s July 23rd Board of Supervisors meeting, the Board unanimously approved a contract with the Sierra Business Council (SBC) for the administration of the Last-Mile Broadband Grant program, a grant for the development and expansion of Broadband in Nevada County. The grant will be funded by what the County receives for transient occupancy tax (TOT), a tourism-related tax charged to travelers when they rent accommodations for less than 30 days.

[ . . . ]

“The $225,000 Last-Mile Broadband Grant is a pilot program to leverage County funds to support the development of Last-Mile Broadband infrastructure in the unincorporated areas of the County to promote economic development. Last-Mile refers to connecting the enduser or customer’s home or business to a local network provider. The development of Last-Mile transmission networks is the most cost prohibitive component of broadband expansion in Nevada County.

[ . . . ]

It is a 2019 Board Priority to support job-enhancing economic development with an emphasis on creating infrastructure and community partnerships with organizations such as SBC. During the meeting, the Board approved a total of $250,000 investment into economic development and broadband. Of that funding, $25,000 going towards SBC’s administration of the pilot grant program and $225,000 that will be available for the grant.

The full report is HERE.
It will be interesting to see how the Sierra Business Council leverages this one time grant of $225,000. The last mile is like apple pie, as everyone supports it. However, fiber to the home is bloody expensive, like Google and Verizon found out and shut down their fiber to the home programs as too costly.

Fiber to the home is expensive costing between $1200 to $1500 per household, excluding any electronics needed to make the connection. That is the cost per connection when the fiber is in the street, in rural neighborhoods, the driveways can be quarter of a mile long. The primary cost component is labor to dig the trenches and lay the fiber. Or, hang the fiber on existing poles, which introduces another cost, rent for the use the poles which belong to other companies.

An alternative approach is to use wireless technology for the last mile connection. Wireless technology was used by the Beckville Network to tap the VAST middle mile network. The estimate network cost for ten homes was $10,000. That is $1,000 per connection. More here. As it turns out, the tall trees are limiting the expansion of the network to cover more of the neighborhood, requiring major network upgrades and more cost. The final cost per home is still unknown.

The Sierra Business Council was preparing a Broadband Strategic Plan for Nevada County to be published in August according to Peter Brown, the project developer. It will be interesting to see how symbiotic the Strategic Plan and the Nevada County Economic Development Grant are.

It is not clear how SBC should spend the broadband economic development grant, nor what the success criteria will be? How will citizens know the $225,000 resulted in economic development? How many last-mile connections, and at what cost? And, what wireless technology will best serve the community, as there are last-mile technologies in the market that cannot provide, the FCC minimum speeds of 25 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up.

Many of these questions could be answered when the Nevada County Broadband Strategic Plan is published. Stay Tuned.

Farmers Call for Better Broadband in Rural California

By Kevin Hecteman at the California Farm Bureau Federation

Having trouble reading this on your laptop or smartphone? You might be among the more than one-quarter of rural Americans with insufficient broadband service.

From equipment diagnostics to data transfers to irrigation control to simple text messaging, tech is becoming a way of life on the farm—but is only as good as the local internet connection.

“America’s farmers and ranchers embrace technology that allows their farming businesses to be more efficient, economical and environmentally responsible,” the American Farm Bureau Federation states in a policy paper on the topic, citing precision applications of water, fertilizer and crop-protection materials among the benefits of tech on the farm.

“These are only a few examples of how farmers use broadband connectivity to achieve optimal yield, lower environmental impact and maximize profits,” AFBF stated.

Or, as Siskiyou County farmer Brandon Fawaz put it: “Having faster internet now is no longer a luxury. It’s kind of just required in the normal transaction or running of the business.”

The trick, of course, is getting that service out to people who need it. Even California—home of Silicon Valley and its technical cornucopia—has issues with connectivity in rural regions, and Fawaz said it goes beyond broadband.

“We’re still hindered by the lack of good cell coverage,” said Fawaz, who grows hay and operates a fertilizer and crop-protection business. “I still rely a lot more on printing paper and taking that to someone driving a fertilizer spreader versus being able to send them certain types of data files straight from wherever I’m at to wherever they’re at. You’ve got a piece of equipment sitting there, and you know what needs to be given to the guy, but you’re having to take him a piece of paper or a USB stick for him to plug into the computer on the machine.”

That extends to soil sensors Fawaz relies on to take moisture levels and send the data to phones and computers, accessing how-to videos and other troubleshooting information on equipment manufacturers’ websites and irrigating crops from remote locations.

“Our pivots—our irrigation systems—are controlled on service that’s basically just text-message-level service,” he said. “I’ve had to drive a 36-mile round trip to go down and push a button, because the pivot wouldn’t receive the stop or start command.”

The issue, one of AFBF’s top priorities, is receiving attention at the federal level. On Capitol Hill, a House subcommittee held a hearing last week at which Missouri Farm Bureau President Blake Hurst drove home the need for broadband access.

“While most Americans take broadband for granted, 26.4% of rural Americans lack access to broadband,” Hurst told the hearing. “This is alarming, particularly when compared to the only 1.7% of urban Americans who lack such access.”

Broadband connectivity allows equipment such as cloud-connected planters, irrigators, tractors and harvesters to automatically change application rates for seed, fertilizer and more, Hurst testified.

Connectivity also is key to running the most basic of services in rural areas, said Chester Robertson, chief administrative officer of Modoc County.

“It’s a public-safety issue,” Robertson said. “It’s an impediment to government and education. And it also impacts our private-sector businesses.”
Wildfires, car crashes into telephone poles and even squirrels gnawing on lines have all interrupted service and made it difficult, if not impossible, for residents and travelers to conduct business and for first responders to do their jobs, he added.

“The average citizen doesn’t realize the implications to them when we don’t have broadband,” Robertson said. “And it’s getting harder and harder for us in government to procure services when you’re not connected to the cloud.”

He’s seen the effects on farmers and ranchers in his county as well, and noted capacity is getting to be an issue.

“As more and more of the ag community and a lot of the kids and other people go to using their cellphone, they’re using the same broadband backbone that government and the rest of us are using,” Robertson said.

“There’s a nexus between cellphone usage, which more and more the ag community is dependent on, and having a strong backbone of broadband,” he added. “As time progresses, this becomes less of an equality issue and more of an issue of public safety, and compromises ability for businesses and public entities to provide core mandated services.”

A U.S. Department of Agriculture report, A Case for Rural Broadband, found that fully deployed rural broadband would lead to nearly $65 billion in economic benefits annually. The report, produced as part of the American Broadband Initiative, cites benefits to row crops, specialty crops and livestock management and states USDA’s intention to work with other federal agencies to remove barriers to broadband deployment and ag tech innovation (See Comment).

The 2018 Farm Bill included the Precision Agriculture Connectivity Act, creating a task force to focus on connectivity and technology needs of precision agriculture. The Broadband Data Improvement Act, introduced by Sen. Shelley Capito, R-W.V., seeks to improve the accuracy of broadband coverage maps and better direct federal funds for broadband installation where needed.

In the state Legislature, Assembly Bill 488 by Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, D-Winters, would add the secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture to the California Broadband Council, to give agriculture a voice in finding ways to expand broadband. The bill is up for consideration on the state Senate floor.

“At this day and age, how do we not have better cell coverage?” Fawaz asked. “If you were to ask people here what’s most frustrating on this topic, it hands down would be cell coverage.”

(Kevin Hecteman is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. He may be contacted at khecteman@cfbf.com.)

Presented with Permission

Solving the BB Mapping Problem

See Telecompetitor Article:

USTelecom: Fixing Carrier Data Only Solves Part of the Broadband Mapping Problem; We Know How to Solve the Other Part

6/20/19 at 7:16 PM by Joan Engebretson

As the FCC gets set to address inadequacies with the way broadband availability data is collected from service providers, USTelecom is warning that those efforts are only part of the solution to broadband mapping problems. To know which U.S. homes and businesses do not have broadband available to them, we also need to know the exact geographic coordinates of those homes and businesses. And perhaps surprisingly, that information doesn’t exist, explained Mike Saperstein, vice president of policy and advocacy for USTelecom, on a webcast today, in which the organization offered an update on the USTelecom broadband mapping initiative.

“If we map only where broadband is, we have no idea where broadband isn’t,” Saperstein said. “We don’t know physically where the unserved locations are.”

That’s important because service providers need to know the precise location within a farmer’s acreage of the family home to determine the cost to serve that home. But as slides shown during the webinar illustrate, geocoding systems often don’t show the correct location of rural homes within a farmer’s or rancher’s holdings.

us_telecom_pilot

Source: USTelecom

The good news, Saperstein said, is that the USTelecom broadband mapping initiative suggests that solving that part of the problem “isn’t as hard as it seems.”

USTelecom Broadband Mapping Initiative

Broadband provider organization USTelecom launched its mapping initiative in March and has been working on creating what Jim Stegeman, president and CEO of CostQuest, called a proof-of-concept “broadband serviceable fabric” for Virginia and Missouri. CostQuest specializes in data about broadband deployments and was responsible for creating the cost model that underlies the FCC’s Connect America Fund. The company is also working with USTelecom on the broadband mapping initiative.

Also participating in the initiative are several other broadband organizations and broadband service providers, including AT&T, Verizon, CenturyLink, the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association, ITTA – The Voice of America’s Broadband Providers and others.

USTelecom, CostQuest and other participants followed several steps to create the broadband fabric, explained Stegeman.  They began with data showing parcel boundaries (which, in general, depict the boundaries of a farmer’s or rancher’s holdings.) They augmented that data with information from tax assessors about how the land is used (commercial, agricultural, residential, etc.) and about primary and secondary structures on the land. They also brought in data showing building polygons – essentially a bird’s eye view showing the outer dimensions of every building on a farm, including garages, chicken coops and homes.

Current rules for broadband programs such as the Connect America Fund call for bringing service only to the primary location on an individual homestead (although that definition could broaden in the future). Accordingly, logic developed to analyze the data makes a determination about the location of the primary location on a property, and a specific confidence level is calculated for that determination. A designated team then reviews the data. The review process also could use crowd sourcing to hone the results, Stegemen noted.

USTelecom expects to submit full results from the pilot mapping initiatives in Virginia and Missouri to the FCC this summer and estimates that a fabric for the entire country could be created sometime in 2020. The FCC could then use the fabric in combination with shapefiles, also known as polygons, from service providers showing where the providers offer broadband to determine which U.S. locations do not have broadband available to them. Creating the nationwide fabric would cost between $10 million and $12 million by USTelecom’s estimate.

In an email response to an inquiry from Telecompetitor, a USTelecom spokesman said “We are funding the pilot as a proof of concept that the fabric can deliver a targeted view of broadband service availability. We have been keeping the FCC involved with our process and demonstrating our results to them; our hope is that they will adopt the fabric nationwide as part of their ongoing proceeding. To do so they will need to make provisions on their end (for example, a vendor that would produce the fabric.)”

CPUC Releases California Advanced Services Fund Broadband Adoption Gap Analysis

SAN FRANCISCO, June 19, 2019 – The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has released an analysis on gaps in those subscribing to high-speed broadband internet. The Adoption Gap Analysis was ordered in Decision (D.) 18-06-032 and identifies various demographic barriers to broadband adoption and provides information to support important program and grant decisions for the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) Broadband Adoption Account.

The analysis concludes that income, of all the demographic barriers to adoption, is the most significant factor contributing to low adoption (subscription) rates. As a result, the analysis identifies the top ten communities with some of the lowest adoption rates and lowest incomes in California that will be prioritized for grant funding.

In addition to identifying various barriers, the analysis adds data to the online California Interactive Broadband Map (http://www.broadbandmap.ca.gov/) to include various demographic data at the census tract, block group or block level.

These resources will assist decision makers, stakeholders and potential CASF applicants to 1) better understand their communities and its needs; 2) identify the area’s specific barriers and how to address them; and 3) know where to best implement Adoption projects to yield greater benefits. Applicants interested in applying for grants in the CASF Adoption Account should use these tools and resources in developing proposals. The full analysis can be found here.

 

How Data Journalism Helped Power A Rural Broadband Revolution

One small magazine, one semi-retired reporter, and an award-winning series of studies using federal statistics that showed why broadband was critical to rural survival.

Trevor Butterworth
June 17, 2019

We are doing broadband,” said President Trump on signing H.R. 2, the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (aka, the “Farm Bill”). “Everyone wanted it so badly.”
Hardly anyone noticed, but to advocates of rural broadband, it seemed scarcely believable that wanting something so badly had actually ended in the funding to make it happen. But there it was: $1.75 billion over five years—which was coming on top of $600 million for rural broadband in the March 2018 omnibus budget bill.

Behind the wanting, though, was data—and notably, a series of studies looking at the impact of broadband access on rural population loss, and showing, over several iterations, an increasingly causal link between lack of access and population loss in America’s most disconnected counties.

The studies were done for a small business to business magazine, Broadband Communities, and its Editor-at-Large, veteran data journalist Steve Ross, who had taught students at Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism for years about the value of looking at the data (including this writer in 1997), when data journalism was called “computer-assisted reporting.”

Regulators had been headline attendees at the magazine’s conferences, so the studies were widely known and shared within the broadband community, but it was a series of calls from congressional offices in 2018 to talk about the findings that led Ross to think they might be helping to inform legislative change. As Ross notes, congressional staffers were “shocked” to discover that the studies came from an independent trade magazine and not an industry front group or advocacy organization.

What this story shows is that even a small magazine can help drive the kind of change that affects millions of Americans. And it did so because a journalist knew how to use federal statistics to tell a story.

Continue reading HERE.

This is a story of how leadership can solve a problem, by being diligent and unrelenting. If your rural community lack this kind of leadership your prospects of getting broadband is limited to waiting for the big telcos determine your density is sufficient to meet their ROI hurdles. How long are you willing to wait?

Race Communications Leases Nevada County Land for Bright Fiber Project

After holding a Community Town Hall in January on the fiber network down highway 174, Race Communications has started to move forward on the project. The Union has more details HERE.

There are almost 2,000 homes in the service area along Highway 174. In a January town hall officials said the project’s completion was set for May 2020.

If you live along SR-174 what are your thoughts?  Ready to sign up?

AT&T National 5G Strategy

Telecompetitor has the details:

AT&T nationwide 5G plans include a multi-pronged strategy. Those plans include leveraging millimeter wave spectrum for dense urban areas. AT&T calls this their 5G+ coverage, which will provide the fastest mobile broadband experience.

This service will be delivered primarily through small cells using a centralized radio access network (CRAN) architecture. CRAN allows multiple (maybe hundreds of) small cells to be controlled from a single centralized hub. AT&T 5G+ is currently available in select locations in 19 cities. It can offer gigabit capable speeds, notes Mair.

“I really like the momentum I’m seeing right now from our build in terms of the CRAN or small cell capabilities,” said Mair in his remarks. “That millimeter wave, basically 200, 300 plus meters radius, so there’s a lot more of those small cells that you need to put in place to provide that capability.”

For broader, more macro coverage, AT&T will use their sub-6 GHz spectrum holdings, with 700 MHz a likely 5G workhorse. This capability will be put on existing AT&T towers, with their FirstNet build helping facilitate the transition to 5G.

Emphasis added

ATT_5G_Lowband_Band_12_1024x1024
AT&T National 5G Strategy

Source: Allnet Insights & Analytics

Continue reading HERE.  The use of low band will be a boon to rural users, as the signals will go further and are less attenuated by foliage.